Piecing the Quilt, Stirring the Stew: Ethnic American Women’s Voices

Fall 2005

Various metaphors have been used to describe the ethnic diversity of the United States. A common description is the “melting pot” in which many ethnic groups blend together, suggesting assimilation into one group—“Americans.” Another description of our diverse population as a patchwork quilt suggests distinct ethnic groups working together yet remaining separate. Both metaphors refer to activities frequently associated with women, cooking and sewing. The four contemporary novels and one memoir of this new series ask us to stir the stew of our ethnic heritage and that of our fellow countrypersons. They take us to the humor and wonder of different ethnic traditions within our larger experience as citizens of this country—Mexican-American, African-American, Arab-American, Chinese-American, and Jewish-American. We will explore whether so many groups, taken together, form something larger. If you want to piece together the threads of these books by five provocative and entertaining women writers to see what shape and form we are and can be as a nation, please join us for this “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” reading and discussion series. Some of our country’s finest and most entertaining contemporary writers will challenge us to explore the relationships among the varied peoples of our nation’s history and our own experience.

Oklahoma City University invites participants to make this theme come “alive” in the readings of this five-part series. At each session, a Humanities scholar will make a 30-40 minute presentation on the book in the context of the theme. Small group discussion will follow with experienced discussion leaders. At the end, everyone will come together for a brief wrap-up. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to preregister and borrow the reading selections and theme brochure by calling Harbour Winn at 521-5472, emailing him at hwinn@okcu.edu or dropping by OCU’s Walker Center 171 (southwest corner of the building just south of NW 26th and Florida). Information can also be found on the web site of the Center for Interpersonal Studies through Film & Literature: www.okcu.edu/film-lit/

The series will be held in Walker Center, Room 151, on the Oklahoma City University campus from 7:00 to 9:00 PM on Tuesdays, beginning September 13 and continuing on alternate Tuesdays through November 8. Books, theme materials, and services for this series are provided by “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma,” a cooperative project of the Oklahoma Library Association and the Oklahoma Humanities Council. Funding for this series is provided by a grant from the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Purchase of some books and the printing of theme materials were made possible by individual donations to “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma.”


9/13/2005 Sandra Cisneros’s Mango Street

One of the most oft read and popular of contemporary works, Cisneros’ Mango Street takes us into the coming-of-age world of Esperanza. Living in her brown neighborhood, she dreams of leaving Mango Street to discover a “house of my own.” The poetic prose of Cisneros will enrapture all of us and launch our exploration of ethnic identity and American identity.

9/27/2005 Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club

Both a moving book and film, The Joy Luck Club tells tales of mothers and daughters, of expectations and disappointments. Each of the mothers recalls her flight from repression in China for the hope that this country offered them and their daughters. Yet, as they have aged, the women observe the struggle of their grown daughters, wondering if the two generations can any longer understand each other, wondering if they even share a common heritage.

10/11/2005 Faye Moskowitz’s A Leak in the Hear

Growing up in a small Michigan neighborhood, Moskowitz recalls in her memoir how odd she felt wishing she could be like the characters in books: “I longed to be blond and goyish like Nancy Drew.” Not until she has become a young woman does she find, and through a grandparent, ways to reconcile her Jewish heritage with her American aspirations.

10/25/2005 Barbara Neely’s Blanche on the Lam

Nothing like a mystery novel to add new ingredients to this series! Blanche, an African-American domestic worker for an affluent white family, describes her dual world of trying to raise her adopted children while observing the spoiled ones in the home where she works. Torn between her independence and responsibilities, she struggles with what it means “to be a black woman trying to control her own life and stand firm against having her brain vanillaed.”

11/8/2005 Diana Abu-Jaber’s Arabian Jazz

To be Arab and American in 2005, a recipe for experiencing uncertainty! Ambivalent about her identity, her home, and her role in life, Jemorah wonders if she should move to Jordan and marry. Or, should she let her supervisor at work paint her lips pink and dye her hair to make her “American”? She wonders where Americans come from if they are not captured on reservations. Who are Americans and what is their heritage?